Nintendo hit the jackpot with Pokémon Go, but it also whiffed with Miitomo. The company is clearly interested in moving further into mobile, but it needs to keep up the wins to make the most of its remaining intellectual property. This is how it can do that.
Pokémon Go used Google-incubated AR MMO Ingress as a functional model, but the same model doesn’t make sense when applied to Mario, Zelda or Animal Crossing. Investors are looking at Pokémon Go as a sign that Nintendo’s ready to unlock its mobile value, but the wrong move would be to assume a one-size-fits-all approach will be the best way to get there. Instead, it can look to these examples for ways in which to make the most of Mario and company.
1. Mario: Chameleon Run
The Super Mario Bros. franchise popularized the platforming video game genre, but on smartphones, there are inhibiting factors that make it hard to create a game that requires mastery of a sometimes complex series of physical buttons, d-pads and joysticks.
Many platformers exist on iOS and Android, of course, but the most successful ones have moved beyond the original awkward implication of virtual on-screen buttons. One of the best examples in recent memory is Chameleon Run, a fast-paced platform title that requires only one touch (or a series of touches and long presses depending on what you want to accomplish).
Nintendo has been able to change the core mechanics of the Mario series of games as its consoles evolved in power and control scheme. It doesn’t have to do exactly what Chameleon Run does in terms of having the proceed automatically and the player affect only jumping, but it should look to these successes for guidance on how expectations have changed for mobile-only platform games.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Crashlands
Mario’s more serious counterpart in the Nintendo stable of characters has long been Link, the elfin protagonist of the Legend of Zelda series. Link’s constant questing on behalf of Princess Zelda includes a game world and backstory that is at once simple enough to be grasped easily by new players, and rich enough to awaken the imaginations of longtime players.
Nintendo can carry over the rich world of Zelda while remaining within the action RPG genre, provided it takes some cues from companies that have done so intelligently. Crashlands from indie dev Butterscotch Shenanigans actually feels like a game that somewhere deep in its DNA contains traces of the original Legend of Zelda games.
Where Crashlands truly excels in its use of a crafting system that is addictive and powerful, yet easy to learn. It’s actually similar in some ways to how Nintendo seems to be handling items in the upcoming Zelda release for consoles, currently scheduled for next year.
3. Kirby: Candy Crush Saga
I played the heck out of Bejeweled. I played so much Bejeweled that it was insane. And while I haven’t kept up the habit with modern match games like mega-hit Candy Crush Saga. Kirby, another of the starring characters in Nintendo’s platforming world, is a good fit for this genre because of the headline character’s habit of inhaling everything around him. There’s a big cast of characters and recognizable in-game items to draw inspiration from in creating tiles, too.
Some readers will no doubt point out that Nintendo actually created a matching game very early on: 1990’s Dr. Mario, which owed a lot to Tetris in terms of inspiration. But the genre has come a long way since then, and Kirby offers an opportunity to do much more, like powering up tiles by consuming adjacent ones, using in-game items for temporary power-ups, and much more.
4. Super Smash Brothers: Marvel Contest of Champions
If there’s one nearly perfect example of translating fighting game success to a mobile platform, it’s Kabam’s Marvel Contest of Champions. It’s also a good example because it leverages a beloved existing IP in Marvel’s comic book superheroes.
Again, this is more of an iteration than a straightforward port, since it replaces fast-twitch controls and combos with character building and more simplified combat. It’s also a good fit because the core mechanic for getting players to return is unlocking new characters and adding them to their team – something that fits well with the cross-brand appeal of Super Smash Brothers, which draws characters from all of Nintendo’s (and partners) most popular properties.
Nintendo could do more, here too: it’s a great opportunity to tie in its existing Amiibo business, giving players a way to get or upgrade in-game characters through purchases of real-world collectibles.
5. Animal Crossing: Ingress/Minecraft: Pocket Edition
Animal Crossing is one of Nintendo’s lesser-known properties, but one that still has a lot of fan appeal, especially among younger players. The game encourages social activity, letting players visit each other’s towns, which are built by each player to some extent, and populated by cheerful and amusing non-player characters.
Here’s one case where it could make sense for Nintendo to go back to the augmented reality well: Animal Crossing really works well in getting players to visit each other virtually, and it’s easy to see how that could extend to meet-ups in real life. And since players in Animal Crossing are encouraged to build and customize their virtual neighborhoods, there’s an opportunity to build in some user-generated content (like a scaled down Minecraft), too.
Animal Crossing also leans heavily on seeking out collectibles for a user’s collection, too, and I think that’s another reason this one could benefit from the Ingress model. Activities like fishing and bug catching could easily have real-world locations attached to them, which would add a different dimension to the one-size nature of PokéStops in Pokémon Go.
Don’t copy; trust others
Now I’m not suggesting Nintendo copy these games with their IP pasted over top. Nintendo has shown a fair amount of wisdom in letting other companies who are better-skilled in the ways of mobile take the lead on the product design side of the equation, as with Niantic and Pokémon Go. The key is also to avoid a straightforward licensing deal, and to change the way the game works in accordance with what makes sense for retaining what’s already appealing about Nintendo’s games.
Making more hits in mobile for Nintendo isn’t easy, but with the right partners and the right understanding of what’s different about gaming on smartphones, we’ll hopefully have a lot more to look forward to in terms of upcoming reinventions of old favourites.